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Congratulations! You’re thrilled to be the proud owner of one of our stunningly beautiful, powerful, luxurious Princess motor yachts. Is it necessary to register your vessel? Are there any circumstances in which registration is compulsory? What is the registration process, and how is a vessel’s ownership determined? Here’s what you need to know.

The background – About British Merchant Shipping law

Under the nation’s Merchant Shipping Law, ownership is closely linked to registration – one cannot exist without the other. Registration also makes it clear which flag state a boat belongs to, vital since merchant ships tend to be big, valuable and laden with potential liabilities.

Every boat has a national identity or flag state, which identifies the rights and obligations they have under the law, even if it’s something really small like a sailing dinghy. When you resister your boat, you are officially bound by your flag state’s laws, rules and regulations.

Do you need to register your boat?

While your yacht is in British territorial waters, you aren’t bound by the law to register her. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 pins down which vessels are British, and allowed to fly the British flag.

If a ‘qualifying owner’ has an unregistered ship less than 24m long they’re allowed to fly the British flag. In this context ‘qualifying’ means an individual or business entitled to register a British boat.

Once a British boat leaves the UK’s territorial waters, warships from anywhere in the world are allowed to demand proof of its right to fly the British flag. This effectively means the boat must be registered.

Unless you have absolutely no intention of leaving UK territorial waters and can be wholly confident you won’t do so by accident, you don’t have the register your craft. Can you be 100% certain of that? If not, as you can imagine, it’s better to be safe than sorry and register your boat.

If your boat isn’t registered, you leave British waters, and local Customs employees find you out, you will have to pay a fine. And if you stay in another country for long enough, local Customs can decide that your boat belongs under that country’s jurisdiction, which means you’ll have to abide by their laws and regulations.

A boat’s registration normally comes from either the nationality of the owner, or the country they’re living in. Once she’s registered, she becomes a floating element of the flag state she belongs to, and the owner must abide by the flag nation’s requirements regarding training, health and safety and so on. It’s handy to know that here in Britain we don’t demand compulsory training or minimum safety on private boats and pleasure craft.

How to register a boat in UK

How do I register my boat in Britain? The register of British Shipping consists of four parts, one to four. British pleasure boats can register on either Part I, the original Register of British Ships, or Part III, the Small Ships Register or SSR. You can only register on one of them, not both.

Which to choose? The main differences are the eligibility and proof to register. Part I is a title register and proof of ownership, which also includes details about any boat mortgage, and the SSR is more like a passport for your boat.

About Part 1 boat registration

Part I Registration is for British nationals and non UK workers with an official right of freedom of movement or the right to establish themselves in Britain. If you don’t meet the criteria you still might be able to register on Part 1, but you’ll need to contact the Registry first.

If your boat is more than 24m long, Part 1 is your only option. The same applies if it is owned by a company or you have a marine mortgage on the vessel whose terms and conditions insist you have to register on Part 1.

Part 1 is also your only choice if you want to join the British Register but live abroad, since Part 3 registration demands you live in the UK. If you don’t usually live in Britain you’ll have to appoint an individual or corporate representative who does, and they will need to deal with all the paperwork on your behalf.

The meaning of the word ‘established’ is really important here. It isn’t enough merely to live in Britain or be employed here. Article 52 of the EU Treaty says ‘establishment’ means you must make an economic contribution to the nation, either via running a business or on a self-employed basis.

The best thing about Part 1 registration is it makes selling the vessel so much easier, simply because it confirms the seller actually owns the craft and whether or not there’s a mortgage on it.

How to put your boat on the Part 1 Register

Registration on Part 1 costs around £124 and you’ll need to get a 5 year tonnage and measurement survey first. If your boat is shorter than 13.7 metres (45 feet)  you can use a simpler way of measuring it via a RYA appointed tonnage measurer.

To register you’ll have to prove the chain of ownership 5 years back, unless the craft has already been Part 1 registered during that time. If so, you must provide bills of sale revealing every ownership transfer since it was last registered. You’ll have to provide the vessel’s name, which mustn’t be the same as the name already on Part 1. And if your boat is brand new you’ll need to show the builders certificate. You’ll find the relevant forms for Part 1 at www.gov.uk.

About the Small Ships Register – the SSR

Part 3, the Small Ships Register is cheaper than Part 1 and proves your nationality when you venture overseas. Eligible boats are less than 24m long and owned privately. You have to be a British citizen to register your craft, or a non UK citizen exercising your EU right of freedom of movement / worker’s right for establishment. The SSR is also good for:

  • People from British Dependant Territories
  • British Overseas citizens
  • British subjects under the British Nationality Act 1981
  • British Nationals (overseas) under Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986
  • Any citizens of the Commonwealth not catered for in the bullet points above

To be considered ‘ordinarily’ resident in the UK, you must live here for at least 185 days in every 12 months.

SSR registration is relatively easy. All you do is complete a form from the Registry, something you can do online. It costs just £25 and lasts for 5 years. Most nations these days are aware of the SSR, but if you’re going to far-flung places it may be wise to get in touch with the UK Ship Register (RSS) to check the country knows about SSR. It’s legal the world over.

How to apply for the Part 3 Register, SSR

Registration on Part 3 is simple. All you need to do is fill in a basic form from the Registrar General that includes a description of the vessel, its total overall length, its name (which, unlike the Part 1 Register, doesn’t have to be unique), all the owners’ names and addresses, a declaration that they’re eligible to own a British Ship and the ship is entitled to legally register. Give them all that and you’ll be sent your registration certificate, after which you must display the registration number – preceded by ‘SSR’ – on a visible external surface. You’ll find a link here: www.gov.uk UK ship register.

Where to register a boat?

Part I, the Register of British Ships, is administered by the office of the Registrar General of Shipping in Cardiff. Part III, the Small Ships Register, is also administered by the Registrar General at Cardiff. Contact the RSS, the UK Ship Register at Anchor Court, Keen Road, Cardiff, CF24 5JW. Telephone 02920 448800.

How to find a boat owner

The purpose of the Part 1 register is to confirm a boat’s nationality and register the title and charges. Because it isn’t used for anything else, it isn’t on public record and can’t be searched.

A useful way to find out more information on a vessel is to visit the Maritime mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) page on the ITU.int website. From there you can access the Ship  station search page. Just enter the vessel name or call sign and you will see some details about the boat – including the owners.

Always happy to help

Whether you’ve bought a brand new Princess craft or a used one, we’re always happy to help you through the administrative side of boat ownership. Contact one of our team at Princess Motor Yacht Sales at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +44 (0)1489 557755.

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